Technology usually encourages the advancement of art. With computers, new genres of music such as dub-step and techno have emerged. With computer generated images, cinema can place fantastic images on the big screen with relative ease. Literature, however, has advanced surprisingly little. Although e-readers have become more common recently, the form itself has mostly stuck to the same thing — words.
Of all writers, J.K. Rowling was perhaps the person best suited to change this. On June 23, she announced, via the Internet, the launch of Pottermore, an interactive website that follows the plot from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” through the full series. No person but Rowling has the combination of creative ambition, fan support and financial means to make a project like this work. Her secret weapon: 18,000 words of new, previously unreleased material in the Harry Potter universe.
Though Pottermore follows the famous series, it’s not meant to replace it. Instead, it aims to supplement the books with an interactivity that makes the stories more engaging. Users can see frames from scenes in the book and interact with them by clicking on objects within the scenes. Users can also “collect” objects to see Rowling’s written material not included in the books. One of the most famous aspects of Pottermore is that users are sorted into one of the four houses, where they compete with other players online in various mini-games to get points for their house. You also get to follow in the footsteps of a Hogwarts first year by traveling to Diagon Alley, buying an animal and receiving your personal wand.
Some fans are appreciative of Pottermore, praising Rowling for listening to her fans by giving them more. Among the new material in Pottermore is detailed knowledge of wandlore — a subject shrouded in mystery in the books — and the back story of Professor McGonagall. This additional material brings up new questions of what constitutes canonical material within Rowling’s Harry Potter universe.
“Pottermore would be ‘canonical’ with Rowling’s novels in that the site is authorized by her and consistent with her body of work,” said Lynne Schneider, a Binghamton University English professor.
Other fans believe the Harry Potter universe should have been left as is, with the rest left to readers’ imaginations.
“I’ll read it, but I’m not happy about it,” said Benjy Shuter, a junior majoring in creative writing.
The same sort of comments echo responses to other extra-textual material Rowling has mentioned in past interviews. For instance, Rowling revealed Dumbledore’s homosexuality, as well as Luna Lovegood’s marriage to Rolf Scamander, grandson of the fictional author of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (one of Harry’s textbooks at school), instead of Neville Longbottom, as many fans predicted. This information has simultaneously inspired and invalidated many pages of Internet fanfiction.
Although few authors wield the power of J.K. Rowling to make a version of Pottermore for their own properties, Pottermore may fashion a new trend in literature.
“Popular books tend to be to be turned into movies and video games,” said Elana Kurlander, an undeclared freshman. “Interactive websites are the next step.”
Indeed, the site is arguably a more comprehensive version of websites that have already existed for books and other franchises. Consider www.Brakebills.com, a mock website for the Brakebills College, the magical school in Lev Grossman’s “Magicians” trilogy. Lionsgate, the distributor for the upcoming “The Hunger Games” movie, has set up TheCapitol.pn, a website where users can see infographics about the citizenship of Panem, the fictional post-apocalyptic country where the franchise takes place.
Whether Pottermore ushers in a new phase in literature or is simply an extension of what already exists, it still represents what technology can do for books given the right amount of creativity and content.